We all have a mental image of Albert Einstein. For some of us, that mental image doesn’t get much more detailed than the mustache, the unruly hair, and the rumpled dress, all of which, thanks to his achievements in theoretical physics, have become visual signifiers of forbidding intelligence. But when we imagine this image of Einstein actually speaking, what does he sound like? Beyond guessing at a reasonably suitable Germanic accent, many of us will realize that we’ve never actually heard the man who came up with the Theory of Relativity speak.
By the time Einstein died in 1955, recording technology had proliferated, and so the bits and pieces of his speeches committed to tape add up to over an hour of material in total. Spotify has gathered it all together in the album Albert Einstein in His Own Voice. (If you don’t have Spotify’s free software, you can download it here.) It includes some of the Einstein audio we’ve featured here before, such as his 1940 radio broadcast on why he chose to become an American citizen and his reading, from the next year, of his essay “The Common Language of Science.”
Einstein left behind plenty of writing in addition to that piece, but often, to really understand how a mind works, you need to hear its owner talk. (And few minds, or in any case brains, have drawn as much attention as Einstein’s.) “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university,” he once said, presumably including the sorts of audiences he spoke to in these recordings. Having heard Albert Einstein in His Own Voice, you’ll understand much more fully the intellectual interest to which Einstein, when not sticking it out in order to become the world’s dorm-room icon of wacky genius, could put the use of his tongue.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.